Saturday 25 November 2017

GPA chief Dessie Farrell urges GAA to take 'bold steps' to address fixtures reform

Michael Quinlivan (Tipperary), Ronan Sweeney (Kildare), James McCarthy, (Dublin) and Dermot Malone (Monaghan) at the presentation of the GPA's Football Competitions Proposal
Michael Quinlivan (Tipperary), Ronan Sweeney (Kildare), James McCarthy, (Dublin) and Dermot Malone (Monaghan) at the presentation of the GPA's Football Competitions Proposal
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Be bold and take a chance to create something powerful. That was the message from chief executive Dessie Farrell as the Gaelic Players Association launched its own proposal for inter-county fixture reform.

The proposals have already been flagged and centre on the addition of a round robin All-Ireland series focusing on eight groups of four teams to be played in June and early July with a further play-off round between second- and third-placed teams in those groups to see who joins the group winners in All-Ireland quarter-finals.

But the current leagues and provincial championships are retained, albeit with far tighter time frames.

The GAA has invited submissions on reform and are due to discuss the matter at the November Central Council meeting.

The GPA has been working on its document for some months with a clear mandate for change from players.

The plan cleverly applies a seeding link between league and round robin with provincial champions guaranteed first seed status.

The two relegated Division 1 teams would be second seeds under the proposal with first seeding to the two promoted teams.

But if a provincial champion emerged from outside that group they would take the place of the lowest-placed non-provincial champion in Division 1. The example of Kildare winning Leinster this year was given. It would have moved them up from third seeds (courtesy of relegation to Division 3) to first seeds where they would displace Donegal who didn't win Ulster and finished below Cork.

The GPA plan believes this will create real interest right up to the last round of the league.

The number of games will rise from 64 to 91 and the season would show a relatively clear divide between county activity up to early July and uninterrupted club games for the majority after that.

"What we would love to see, as a players group, is the GAA to be courageous, take a bold step actually go and don't tweak around the edges or the fringes and do something meaningful," said Farrell who accepted they weren't providing a "silver bullet."

"You still have the league and championship, there will be an All-Ireland winner at the end of the season and if it doesn't go well after a year or two, it's no huge, huge loss.

"But by taking a chance being bold and courageous, it could come across something that is quite powerful and has a profound impact," he added.

"We have been talking about it for too long now. Something has to happen and if the desire is there to do it and bring about real change in a genuine way we'll come up with the right answer, whatever that way.

"But there has to be that desire to make it happen and the players have very clearly indicated that they want a change. More and more administrators themselves are saying it. At what stage do we reach the tipping point," he asked.

Elephant

Farrell accepted the compressing of the provincial championships into five- to six-week competitions was the "elephant in the room". Right now it takes five weekends to clear all the Ulster quarter-finals.

Farrell has encouraged debate on the issue but doesn't see it as an "downing tools" matter if their submission is rejected out of hand.

"I think it will take discussion, dialogue and possibly some confrontation at various different points on this journey. What we have at the minute is just not working."

He also felt the issue of Friday night games, which they have been previously against, could not be counted out under these plans.

Former Kildare footballer and current Sligo coach Ronan Sweeney was one of architects of the plan and cited the 40-to-one game-to-training ratio that they had from April to June, in complete contrast to so many other counties. Sweeney believes their plans present a more level playing field.

Inevitably, the absence of significant opportunity for club activity in the earlier part of the year will draw comment but Tipperary's Michael Quinlivan, present at the launch, said he only got to train and play with his club twice this year before Tipperary were knocked out in July.

'Gap' weekends in August, which is one of the GAA's main shop windows, will also be contentious.

Quinlivan and Longford's Michael Quinn backed Farrell's contention that there was no appetite for a second-tier qualifier.

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